Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Be Like the Little Children: An Open Letter to Pastor Joel Osteen

Dear Mr Osteen,

When my daughter, Cheyenne, died in 1994, easily some of the kindest and most tender words of solace were offered by the young, sometimes very young, children. They seemed to understand the pain of a baby's death. Some children, often of my friends or neighbors, learned of the news with their parents; the children's faces contorted with sadness, their heads dropped, they hugged me, a few cried.

Years later, even now, when I tell a young child that one of my precious children died - many years ago - he or she will often respond the same way. An old friend's 8-year-old daughter, whom I just met,  said, "That's the most sad thing that could ever happen isn't it? You must still be so sad."

Indeed, I am still sad that she's dead. I will be an old woman, sitting in a chair, looking out a window, and wishing she never died.

It's a concept that is simple enough for a child to understand.

But apparently it is a concept that seems to be far too complicated for subsets of adults. Not just "grown ups" with plenty of letters after their names and copious industry funding sitting around a table deciding who's "mentally ill" and who's not "mentally ill" but also for spiritual leaders, who want to use the Bible, or any other holy book, as a weapon to emotionally assault those who are the most vulnerable.

Mr. Osteen, instead of chiding those who mourn the death of a child, telling them that they "like the attention too much" (shaking my head in near disbelief) and castigating them because when others "tried to lift their spirits", they were not as responsive as you - or others - believed they should have been... perhaps, instead, you and others should join them in the abyss.

Allowing mourners to be in their pain, without trying to make them change how they feel (often to make yourself and said others feel better), would actually be a more compassionate and more Christlike response. Why? Because trying to force a grieving person to feel better is like telling a double amputee to get up and run before she is ready: its insensitive, lacks circumspect, and certainly doesn't even remotely resemble compassion. And Jesus seemed intent on compassion for the weakest amongst... didn't he? Are we talking about the same guy?

I suspect the psychological responses of the couple to whom you make reference in your book were exacerbated by judging others who, like you, are likely terrified to imagine what it would be like to see your own child's dead, cold body laying in a casket. I do understand. That's not an image you want in your mind is it, sir?

So instead of joining them in imagining that horror, one you really can never fathom until it is happening and, even then, the brain does all it can to protect itself from the utter atrocity of the experience, you - and others - use spiritual bypass to "lift up" - only for many, these pushes toward premature healing don't lift up grieving parents- they tear down and alienate and ostracize those who most need comfort and solidarity.

By joining them in the abyss, rather than "lifting them (forcibly) up",  they see that others have stood by them, borne witness to their suffering, not averted their gaze, have offered their nonjudgmental heart and compassion, slowly, ever so slowly, integration comes.

No, they do not "like the attention." No they are not slathering in what you call "self pity."  Their child is dead. 

At what point in your ministry did your heart turn to stone?

This attitude, sir, is the reason that many grieving parents with whom I work turn away from religion, perhaps, even from God. Does Romans 14:13 mean anything to you?  Your words may become the very stumbling block about which the Apostle Paul admonishes.  And I assure you, there is no one more vulnerable than a person who is traumatically bereaved, particularly a parent who has lost a child.

So, two things. I invite you to participate in my training on traumatic grief where I cover the issue of spiritual bypass and religion, and where we explore findings from a survey of bereaved parents I conducted that found pastors and spiritual leaders scored lower in satisfaction with compassionate caregiving than doctors, nurses, social workers, mental health providers, funeral directors, first responders, and investigators.  I'll even pay your tuition.  You can register here.  You will learn more in these four days than you did at seminary, if you attended seminary, I promise.

And two, I encourage you to re-read my opening paragraph and refer you to Matthew 18:3:

Truly I tell you that until you change and become like the little children, 
you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."  

You can begin that change with a swift and open apology to all those so deeply hurt by your words. I hope that your Christ moves your heart to see, to truly see.

I look forward to hearing from you. Of course, you can email me Dr_Joanne@me.com.

Oh yeah, P.S.  "Jesus wept."  Ironically, he knew he was going to resurrect Lazarus. That Jesus - maybe he just wanted attention and was wallowing in self-pity?


*****

Update: I have invited Mr Osteen to either apologize, publicly, to the bereaved, showing a little Christlike humility, explain himself publicly for his statements in Chapter 17 of his book which were so offensive to so many, and/or publicly debate/discuss/discourse about this issue with me.

Sadly, in response, Joel Osteen and his ilk have blocked me on Twitter. To see the photo of the book excerpt that hurt so many, view here.

Seems I may have triggered a little passive aggression from the Joel Osteen Ministry Team because apparently this issue isn't important enough to "matter."



And all this talk about this issue may be evidence of extraordinariness:





Yeah, a special kind of extraordinary, apparently.  As an aside, those folks who sit around that table and make those decisions I talked about earlier? Sorry, but they'd have a number or two for you.

**************

Update 2:

‪#‎JoelOsteen‬ continues to block every bereaved parent who implores an explanation or an apology. He blocks and then deletes the stories of their children who died. He takes down their photos from his wall without so much as an "I'm so sorry you endured this." I'm trying very hard not to judge. But this, to me, not only feels like a devastating violation of what it means to be a spiritual leader but, more importantly, it feels like a devastating violation of what it means to be deeply human.

I want to extend my heartfelt apologies to all the families with whom I've worked and with whom I have not worked. I apologize for the blocks and deletions and for the untrue and uneducated words he published in that book re-published in 2014, Chapter 17, that acted as a psychological weapon against so many already so wounded by the death of a child or a sibling or a spouse or a parent.

As a scientist, as a counselor, and as a bereaved mother, I assure you that the issue of grief, particularly when traumatic, is something that should not be irresponsibly discussed by those who lack the training, experience, education, and compassion to do so: not in a university, not in a book, not in a coffee shop, and not in a church. If you do not know, just listen. If you cannot understand, do not judge. And certainly, never vilify and humiliate someone who has been hurt with a hurt so deep that "not even the depth and breadth of eternity can fill it" (Charles Dickens) the way he did with Phil and Judy in Chapter 17. They represent us all, any person grieving for longer than Mr Osteen deems appropriate and any person who does not appear to respond to the "lifting up" of others.

Let me explain for a moment why I feel so strongly about this. Scholars have found that bereaved parents, in particular, are at increased risk for suicidality and premature death (Sanders, 2006; Qin & Mortenson, 2007; Cacciatore, et al., 2014). Countless studies and common sense tell us that social support is one of the most salient predictive variables in protecting those who are traumatically bereaved.

Conversely, social constraints, like others refusing to talk about our grief, failing to remember our loved one, and pressuring us to move on, are "significantly associated with more depressive symptoms, perceived stress, somatic symptoms, and worse global health" (Juth et al., 2015). What I read in his book is about social constraint. Not just harmless foolery in my opinion but also dangerous.

This is an exceedingly high-risk population, fragile, and they (we) need and deserve love and compassion and patience and humility from those around them (us). Most do not need want to be forcibly 'lifted up' or expected to "move forward" in a few months or even years. Most do not need or want others to judge them. Most want others to accept what they feel in that moment, be it sadness or despair; guilt or regret; or even peace and nostalgia. Given the space, compassion, and dignity it deserves, their grief will slowly change over time. Not give the space and compassion, and dignity it deserves, and ... therein lies the problem. What happens in the spaces between people matters.

Most grievers simply want others to care and remember with them, to allow them to be authentic in whatever that moment brings. In the wise words of Robert Hall, M.D., "I help them be with what is true. The healing comes from that."

A person of influence who misunderstands and declares war on grief not only harms individuals and families. He or she also influences unrealistic expectations and, thus, hostility toward the bereaved in society.

I leave you with the words of Walt Whitman: “Re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book, and dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem, and have the richest fluency, not only in its words, but in the silent lines of its lips and face, and between the lashes of your eyes, and in every motion and joint of your body."


Update 3:

If you follow this blog and you're upset by this, I understand. But please do not heckle Mr Osteen in church like this. I support peaceful, nonviolent, and respectful protest. Stay outside his church and hold signs or write a blog. But please don't go into the church and heckle him. Thank you. And I'm sorry - very very sorry - he hurt so many so much.



If you have something you'd like to say about this and you're on Twitter you can use #StandUpToJoelOsteen and #JoelOsteen.




36 comments:

Jennifer Arango said...

Beautifully written.

Mary Friedel-Hunt MA LCSW said...

Perfect, Joanne. As I read it I vaguely remembered hearing way back when....that Mr. Osteen has no seminary training. According to Wikipedia he "attended Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he studied radio and television communications, but did not graduate and did not receive a degree from a divinity school.[4][8] In 1982, he returned to Houston and founded Lakewood's television program, where he produced his father's televised sermons for 17 years until January 1999, when his father died unexpectedly from a heart attack.[4][9]"

So I guess studying radio and tv gives him the right to shame others who grieve.Thank you for speaking up to him.

oana79 said...

I left church for very similar reasons. The pastors would not talk to us once our baby died because "he had no seminar training on the subject." How about, as you say, plain and old-fashioned compassion and a willingness to "mourn with those who mourn"? As soon as I announced I was leaving the church many in church, including a very good "friend" who had been there when my son was dying, pulled back from our lives. Even more, I heard things like "I can't be with you as I don't want to become like you." Very Christ-like, indeed...
What is there to say now? I very much question the role of church itself now, as an outdated and obsolete institution. Because if it cannot address pain, in its rawest form, then it has no place in our society anymore.xx

oana79 said...

I left church for very similar reasons. The pastors would not talk to us once our baby died because "he had no seminar training on the subject." How about, as you say, plain and old-fashioned compassion and a willingness to "mourn with those who mourn"? As soon as I announced I was leaving the church many in church, including a very good "friend" who had been there when my son was dying, pulled back from our lives. Even more, I heard things like "I can't be with you as I don't want to become like you." Very Christ-like, indeed...
What is there to say now? I very much question the role of church itself now, as an outdated and obsolete institution. Because if it cannot address pain, in its rawest form, then it has no place in our society anymore.xx

Susan said...

Good for you - great blog post. I would have lacked the patience to write it, but it is exactly as I would have put it, and gawd, the bereaved community needs and deserves a voice..

It was a nasty arrogant and hurtful statement, berating a couple in desperate need for not "getting better" quick enough after a few months - I mean months, as though a few weeks is going to make that much difference when a child has died. Sadly, I think his thoughts are a commpnplace amongst a certain brand of evangelical happy clappy christian.

Where I've asked for help, I've been told I need to have more faith. It's not necessary for people to support, just for me to pray for strenght. It's been suggested to me that maybe Jesus took my 3 year old to bring me closer to God. I've sat through a sermon where the Minister played the topic of "why does bad shit happen to people" for laughs, and I've heard Mary and Martha roundly criticised for grieving for Lazarus, because they should have had more faith in Jesus.

You can have all the faith in the world - it hurts like hell to lose a child. When Jesus found Mary and Martha deep in grief, even though he knew he could resurrect Lazarus, he did not disacknowledge their pain. Jesus wept with them. Jesus wept - the most poignant sentence in the Bible - and a lesson for us all, for their is nothing closer to God that giving solace to someone who desperately needs it.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. Letter is perfect. Will be watching for the reply ....:/


Anonymous said...

Dear Dr. Joanne - I hope you don't mind but I cut and pasted your entire open letter to Mr. Osteen onto his FB page. There have already been favorable comments from people to the post. I just hope the arrogant @$$ reads his own FB page and sees it. Thank you for so eloquently saying what us grieving mothers and fathers feel.
Debby Pilkerton Adkins

SOBBS Stories of Babies Born Still said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SOBBS Stories of Babies Born Still said...

Thank you for these words. As any bereaved parent knows mourning a child is like mothering a child...a life-long journey. Shame on Mr. Olsteen for acting the expert in matters he really knows nothing about. - Lori Spray-Esteve (bereaved parent of 29 years)

june erickson said...

Pompous jerk that he is..... smh I lost my beautiful 22 yo only child Jenna in 2011. Osteen has such a huge following, I'm afraid if we don't speak out, many in the faith community will give up supporting bereaved parents too soon and judging them which is the exact opposite of what is needed. So continue to speak out, and others should write letters asking for an apology or clarification of his comments in that book. I wonder if the parents mentioned in his book even know that there is other support out there. Who better to talk to than others who have been through this kind of grief and survived. Thank you Dr. Joanne.....

Gretchen said...

I am perplexed (flabbergasted really) and deeply saddened by the excerpt from Mr. Osteen's book. As if bereaved parents and families need to feel any more ostracized and misunderstood.

I want to point out that several Christian theologians and famous believers have been bereaved, and have struggled with faith and living life, in the context of traumatic grief. One that comes to mind immediately is C.S. Lewis, on the loss of his wife and his book "A Grief Observed". I am quite certain that Mr. Lewis would be disappointed to learn of the opinion and model suggested by Mr. Osteen.

Another that has spoken deeply to my bereaved heart, in the years since my sons died, is Nicolas Wolterstorff (Professor Emeritus of Philosophical Theology at Yale University, and bereaved father). Below is an excerpt from his book "Lament for a Son"...

"Elements of the gospel which I had always thought would console did not. They did something else, something important, but not that. It did not console me to be reminded of the hope of resurrection. If I had forgotten that hope, then it would indeed have brought light into my life to be reminded of it. But I did not think of death as a bottomless pit. I did not grieve as one who has no hope. Yet Eric is gone, here and now he is gone; now I cannot talk with him, now I cannot see him, now I cannot hug him, now I cannot hear of his plans for the future. That is my sorrow. A friend said "Remember, he's in good hands". I was deeply moved. But that reality does not put Eric back in my hands now. That's my grief. For that grief, what consolation can there be other than having him back?"

And...

"Don't say that it's not really so bad. Because it is. Death is awful, demonic. If you think your task as comforter is to tell me that really, all things considered, it's not so bad, you do not sit with me in my grief but place yourself off in the distance away from me. Over there, you are of no help. What I need to hear from you is that you recognize how painful it is. I need to hear from you that you are with me in my desperation. To comfort me, you have to come close, Come sit beside me on my mourning bench."

Even the (ultra) faithful struggle and grieve. I agree and believe that Jesus would call for compassion, not judgment.

Gretchen said...

Oh, and though I'm not on FB or twitter, I would hope that Rick and Kay Warren (bereaved parents, who are both in high profile Christian ministry roles) would be alerted...

Penny Yura said...

As a mother of a daughter who died at 16 I am not shocked by J.O. comments. Not only do I think he does not have any idea of what a Christian leader should do, but I avoid him as if he was a leper. Never have I heard that "happiness" is our way to Heaven and that if we live happy lives then we are doing good. Jesus says, none comes to my Father except through me. I will see my daughter in Glory, I have no doubt.

Now to tell you that this is my 17th year of grief...never ending, heart wrenching grief. No I do not cry everyday, I do not go to church every Sunday..but I grieve everyday about what could have been, what I missed. Is that selfish..maybe so..but it is my child..No I didn't get mad at God. He says that He knows the number of hair on our heads, He knew us before we were conceived and He knows when we will die. I accept that she has gone to Heaven before me. It is in the wrong order...I go and sit at her grave and pray, I find peace there..but still I grieve. I will grieve until I take my last breath.

No doubt that Joel and his wife have no clue what living in the real world is all about...What the Bible is about and surely not what loosing a part of yourself, your child, is about. He seriously worries me with the following that he has. People blindly following him and his teachings.. Its scary.

Kym said...

As I sit with tears steaming down my face reading the words of Pastor Joel Osteen, I am completely Devastated & soo very deeply saddened by the words he chose to include Not only in excerpts from his books, But actually has spoken to Parents the exact say same way. You know, As a Grandparent of a little girl who died, You Never ever want anyone to forget them, therefore Their Name is Always at the tip of your tongue ready to tell the world of the Child you can No Longer Hold in your arms or Kiss Good Night. To Insult a Parent or Grandparent who has watched as a little casket holding the remains " Of Their Child" is lowered into the ground is beyond belief, And then to accuse them Years later of Seeking Attention or wallowing in self pity deserves a Slap in The Face, like the One Joel Osteen just placed on the Millions & Millions of Parents & Grandparents left on this earth. I Stand WITH- Joanne Cacciatore & The MISS Foundation, Waiting for the apology from Joel Osteen!!!

Kym said...

As I sit with tears steaming down my face reading the words of Pastor Joel Osteen, I am completely Devastated & soo very deeply saddened by the words he chose to include Not only in excerpts from his books, But actually has spoken to Parents the exact say same way. You know, As a Grandparent of a little girl who died, You Never ever want anyone to forget them, therefore Their Name is Always at the tip of your tongue ready to tell the world of the Child you can No Longer Hold in your arms or Kiss Good Night. To Insult a Parent or Grandparent who has watched as a little casket holding the remains " Of Their Child" is lowered into the ground is beyond belief, And then to accuse them Years later of Seeking Attention or wallowing in self pity deserves a Slap in The Face, like the One Joel Osteen just placed on the Millions & Millions of Parents & Grandparents left on this earth. I Stand WITH- Joanne Cacciatore & The MISS Foundation, Waiting for the apology from Joel Osteen!

Barb Silvestro said...

I am not a parent who has lost a child, but I have a close friend who has lost an adult child and still grieves daily 10 years later. I am friends with Melissa Flint Delgado who works her heart out with the MISS foundation and through her words, actions and just her very soul has taught me about grief. I cannot even imagine the pain of losing one of my children. Last night a woman died, a friend from church and I was messaging her daughters my friends, when I realized that her mother is also my friend - this 70 year old woman has just lost her daughter. Even though her daughter was in her 50's, does the loss of a child ever hurt any less? I need to get a hold of her and tell her I am here, I mourn with and for her. This Osteen guy- he apparently has no clue. And I will do whatever is my power to help him to get one. Thank you for writing this wonderful post, for attempting to educate him on grief and compassion, and for the work you do.

Joel Bacon said...

Osteen has had plenty to say regarding the death of my daughter, Charlotte, at Sandy Hook. A quick google search on 'Osteen Sandy Hook' will yield a number of videos and articles. Yet, not once has he ever reached out to my family. Not once has he expressed sorrow for my loss. I didn't even know he came and visited my town. I don't know who he spoke with while here, but it certainly wasn't with victim's families. How nice it must be for him to say that we need to move forward from this, when the tragedy happened to my family, not his. His wife, Victoria goes on to equate the loss of a parent to the loss of a child. Unbelievable.

http://www.christianpost.com/news/joel-osteen-visits-sandy-hook-survivors-calls-tragedy-a-wake-up-call-86877/

Dr. Joanne Cacciatore said...

Thank you everyone for your comments. I'm truly sorry you've been hurt by these words. Your grief is an expression of love; we do not mourn that for which we do not hold love. And the ways in which others approach us- joining us in our sorrow or trying to pull us out/cheer us up/intimations of invalidation- matter. If the bereaved feel unable to process or be with or cope with their grief, and they come to me for help and support, the first thing I want to explore is how others are treating them. There is plenty of science to show that influences, more deeply than most all other variables, the outcomes for the bereaved. Bereavement related so-called "mental illnesses" (grief that never moves)- I find - are often a result of social illnesses from existing in a culture that lacks empathy, understanding, humility, and patience for deep human suffering. I apologize to you all for that.

Joel, regarding your comment I want to say that I watched the ET video clip with #JoelOsteen and I feel like I need a shower. That felt filthy and disgusting and in no way honors Charlotte or the other children and adults murdered that day. My heart hurt watching it thinking of how it must feel for parents whose children died that died. You know, I didn't know if it was possible for me to respect him any less, but I realized I do, now. I am sorry, so sorry. He had no business there. None.

Debi Norton said...

how about he is just a Jack Ass !!!!
people that have never lost a child are just clueless....
but most have compassion & sympathy.....
he should keep his ignorance to himself....
when my child died i appreciated the people that just said...."I'm so sorry"
so much more than the ones that said things like.....she's in a better place....you'll get over it in time....you can always have another baby.....those idiots i wanted to Slap.....
if you haven't walked in our shoes.....then keep your stupid insensitive opinions to yourself...
this man is not fit to be leading tens of thousands of people in mega churches....!!!!!
one of the main things a pastor needs to be good at is talking about & comforting people about Death...
he is clueless.......and from reading his twitter responses.....he is also a cocky..arrogant....Jerk....
not such good characteristics for a pastor....man of God....
well God will be his judge..... and i think He will have quite alot to say.....!!!!

Karla Helbert said...

Joanne,
Of course you know I applaud and agree with every word you say here. This ongoing one-sided discussion is hurtful beyond words to bereaved parents far and wide. Since I hope that Mr. Osteen is coming here to check out the comments, I will also post the link to my letter here as well.

http://www.karlahelbert.com/blog-the-therapeutic-life/an-open-letter-to-pastor-joel-osteen

Pastor, please humble yourself and come before the people professing that you don't know as much as you may think you know and learn from those who would teach.

--Karla

Kristi Oates said...

Imagine for a moment, your child has died.

You are in a rural town, and Christian. Where do you turn for help as you deal with the horror of having a dead child. Maybe you can't get to a qualified therapist, maybe you can't afford one. Maybe, just maybe you haven't found Dr. Jo. Imagine your community saying, "Turn to Pastor Olsteen" and the word of GOD. Imagine your well-meaning best friend buying you the self-help book Olsteen has written.
You crave the help, you need the help desperately because you are drowning in the abyss of child loss. You are dying and are so happy that your best friend is there to help you. You pour over the pages, desperately seeking relief, because of course; Pastor Olsteen knows how to help you. GOD has given Pastor Osteen HIS word. You pour yourself into the book, frantically looking for some direction and help through your horrific journey.

Pastor Olsteen tells you it’s very simple…. STOP being miserable, DECIDE to be happy and fulfilled. Choose to live a life of JOY! If you don't get over your child's death, and live a happy fulfilled life, you are an "ATTENTION CRAVING" person, who chooses to stay in the abyss. You "REFUSE" to get better! You pause, horrified, scared and confused. This is the Pastor's advice (HIS word) to you. You think to yourself “What kind of a messed up self-centered person am I?”

My GOD, can you imagine what this poor person would do, what they would think, how they would feel, how they would be harmed, chastised, and scolded by their own pastor (and their GOD) for not getting over it the loss of their child (and.... intentionally choosing to stay miserable)? Can you imagine the fear and isolation that poor follower of Pastor Olsteen would immediately and permanently have?

Olsteen, you are hurting so many people, your own followers, and your own flock. You are not a trained therapist and you went way too far in giving advice to parents trying to deal with their grief associated with the death of a child.
You add insult to injury when you call out your two parishioners Phil and Judy by name, exploiting them in your book. You criticize them for “WOEFULLY Mourning” the loss of their only son despite the “POOR well-meaning friends who were attempting to nurture them”. Your words are so cruel and harmful, and directed at your own flock. Why would you do this to them? Why would you patronize them in such a way?

I can’t understand why someone, somewhere along the way (in the many levels of review of this book) didn’t say, “Hey guys, this part goes too far”, the pastor should not try to give advice to bereaved parents. He shouldn’t call them out and admonish them for their grief, let’s not substitute shallow self-affirmations for good solid grief therapy”. NOBODY stopped him, his ego wouldn’t stop him, and his ego won’t allow him to apologize now.

My hope is that any bereaved, lost and scared parent is wise enough to see that his advice is terrible. He is untrained, unqualified and unable to provide the guidance a bereaved parent needs. Only a qualified grief counselor can do that. And my hope is that he stops passing such terrible hurtful advice off as the word of GOD.

Boo Pastor Olsteen, what you’ve done is just awful.

Kristi Oates said...

Imagine for a moment, your child has died.

You are in a rural town, and Christian. Where do you turn for help as you deal with the horror of having a dead child. Maybe you can't get to a qualified therapist, maybe you can't afford one. Maybe, just maybe you haven't found Dr. Jo. Imagine your community saying, "Turn to Pastor Olsteen" and the word of GOD. Imagine your well-meaning best friend buying you the self-help book Olsteen has written.
You crave the help, you need the help desperately because you are drowning in the abyss of child loss. You are dying and are so happy that your best friend is there to help you. You pour over the pages, desperately seeking relief, because of course; Pastor Olsteen knows how to help you. GOD has given Pastor Osteen HIS word. You pour yourself into the book, frantically looking for some direction and help through your horrific journey.

Pastor Olsteen tells you it’s very simple…. STOP being miserable, DECIDE to be happy and fulfilled. Choose to live a life of JOY! If you don't get over your child's death, and live a happy fulfilled life, you are an "ATTENTION CRAVING" person, who chooses to stay in the abyss. You "REFUSE" to get better! You pause, horrified, scared and confused. This is the Pastor's advice (HIS word) to you. You think to yourself “What kind of a messed up self-centered person am I?”

My GOD, can you imagine what this poor person would do, what they would think, how they would feel, how they would be harmed, chastised, and scolded by their own pastor (and their GOD) for not getting over it the loss of their child (and.... intentionally choosing to stay miserable)? Can you imagine the fear and isolation that poor follower of Pastor Olsteen would immediately and permanently have?

Olsteen, you are hurting so many people, your own followers, and your own flock. You are not a trained therapist and you went way too far in giving advice to parents trying to deal with their grief associated with the death of a child.
You add insult to injury when you call out your two parishioners Phil and Judy by name, exploiting them in your book. You criticize them for “WOEFULLY Mourning” the loss of their only son despite the “POOR well-meaning friends who were attempting to nurture them”. Your words are so cruel and harmful, and directed at your own flock. Why would you do this to them? Why would you patronize them in such a way?

I can’t understand why someone, somewhere along the way (in the many levels of review of this book) didn’t say, “Hey guys, this part goes too far”, the pastor should not try to give advice to bereaved parents. He shouldn’t call them out and admonish them for their grief, let’s not substitute shallow self-affirmations for good solid grief therapy”. NOBODY stopped him, his ego wouldn’t stop him, and his ego won’t allow him to apologize now.

My hope is that any bereaved, lost and scared parent is wise enough to see that his advice is terrible. He is untrained, unqualified and unable to provide the guidance a bereaved parent needs. Only a qualified grief counselor can do that. And my hope is that he stops passing such terrible hurtful advice off as the word of GOD.

Boo Pastor Olsteen, what you’ve done is just awful.

Rev. Janet Gasbarro said...

I am a Lutheran pastor. Sixteen years ago, my son John died in a car crash. He was 15. It changed me forever. We all know that happens. We are never the same. There is no going back. It also changed my ministry forever. I was angry and confused about God. For a while, I could not even pray. I had nothing to say to the one who had let my son die. I was fortunate to be surrounded by a very caring community. But the people who taught me the most were several older couples in my congregation who had experience the death of of child - some a very long time ago. In my year of ministry with them, I had never heard them mention their losses. Perhaps I wasn't paying attention. But they opened up & shared with me and comforted me and taught me much.

My ministry changed drastically. Part of the healing is to make peace with things we cannot understand and which we cannot control. I do not know why my son died, other than that his friend who was driving lost control of his car and smashed into a tree. Why John died and the others walked away, I do not know.

I do know that bad things happen in this world. I do not think that those things are pleasing to God. I believe that John is in God's care. But of course, I still miss my son. I wonder what he would be like now. His birthday and deathday are still painful. I find comfort in memories, and especially enjoy when others share memories, photos, and stories of John with me.

Since then, I learned how to listen to hearts more deeply. How to judge less, especially about things I had never experienced. How to accept people where they are. I spent 10 years as a hospice chaplain after that, walking with people at the end of life, along with their loved ones.

Dr. Joanne, your response was beautiful, and I hope, but do not expect that Pastor Olsteen will take you up on your kind offer for bereavement education. His attitude toward grief and loss is reflective of his theology & beliefs. However, coming from someone with such a wide audience, it fosters impatience and intolerance of grief, and reinforces our culture's pressure to "get over it." It is especially damaging coming from someone who has such a wide audience. It certainly is not reflective of Christ's love. Jesus wept when his friend died. He showed great kindness to widows and children and to those who were brokenhearted. He preached that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord and love your neighbor as yourself.

I believe that the church can and should be a place of healing. Some churches host bereavement groups. My husband & I attended one at a nearby Roman Catholic Church. A local congregation hosts the Compassionate Friends group that I attended. Many pastors take clinical pastoral education, which is a structured and very helpful preparation for pastoral care. It enables us to help more effectively when people struggle with the loss of a loved one, coupled with a loss of faith. I would encourage people to ask around for congregations and pastors who can do a good job of listening and walking with those who are grieving. To lose one's faith and relationship to God just compounds the already devastating loss of a child. And just like we are never the same again, our faith and our relationship to God may change, but can continue to be a source of comfort and strength to us and perhaps to others as well.

Sandra Whiting said...

I pray that something beautiful comes if this. The pastor has many dedicated followers and a great deal of influence. What a blessing to the grieving community it would be if he would participate in your wonderful courses on caring for the bereaved.

I am trying very hard to remain in a space of love and understanding...but to read that my most intense emotional and spiritual journey is being described as something born of self pity and attention seeking has bruised my heart in a way I never expected.

Thank you Dr. Jo for helping to bring this forward so that our community of beautiful grieving hearts can continue to heal with love and support.

Mr. Osteen, please listen to what our hearts are telling you. We really do know something about this journey we are on...in fact, we are the only ones that do.

Chris Crubaugh said...

I do hope that he never fully understands, for I would not wish this level of pain on my worst enemy. Mr. Osteen, it is my sincere prayer that you will find a micron of humility and take Dr, Joanne's generous offer. Learn a bit about grief, as you can reach so many. The words you currently use to shame already devastated parents into thinking that something is wrong with them, are surely beneath a man of God.
As a grieving parent, I can tell you that it is simply not possible to "decide" not to grieve, for God knows, I have tried. I have tried not to feel, tried not to envision my son's ruined body. I do not wish for sympathy, I long for empathy. I long to hear my son's name spoken in memory and that he not be forgotten. Beyond that, I long to be with my son again. I still do the dishes and feed the dogs and do other chores. I still am forced to live a life of sorts. That does NOT mean that every single day is not just another one in which I have to miss my boy, my child. Please Sir, take the offer and learn more so that you can be a Godly messenger and not a person that is far more likely to drive people away from God.

Jill Bobier said...

Joel Olsteen has been about Joel since the very beginning. His own father doesn't even endorse him as a minister. I am not wasting too much emotional energy with anything he has to say. I'm so thankful I am catholic. You sure don't see Pope Francis shaming bereaved parents.

Gypsy Rodriquez said...

Jo-Jo, Fifteen years later and I still ache for the part of me that is missing. Unfortunate that many have no idea how to respond or act about child loss. I was also told at church that I was sinning by grieving, that I should rejoice that she received early passage into Heaven. Who tells a Mother who just wants to hold her child again something such as that??

Deedee said...

Joanne, beautiful <3

Joey C Johnson said...

I don't give a flying f#<¥ what Joel Osteen says bc i know he's a con man, no pastor should be a millionaire, but he owes all the other bereaved parents an apology! We aren't attention seeking, we grieve what we love. I will love my son til my last breath so of course I will grieve for him til my last breath! You can block us and delete our comments on social media Joel but you'll never shut us up! We are the most passionate of all parents!

Terri said...

Dr. C,

Thank you for this. Thank you for being a voice for our broken hearts. I was moved by your words and wrote my own letter. I'm posting here and emailing:

Dear Joel,

Right now, I sit at my computer weeping as I approach the 3rd anniversary of my beloved middle child’s death. Kyndrid would be 3 years old on July 7th. Instead, I wait with anticipation as the physiological response, cellular, implicit, and explicit memory of my brain and body begins to once again crash onto my world. The death of my daughter was the death of my former self. Each year, as I approach the anniversary of her death, and her birth, I recall what it was to see her dead body, and to carry my own dead body around after we both died. This is not something I have chosen. This is written on my cells. My body is programmed to love her, to need her, to long for her presence. Just as our bodies and brains can instantly recall the feeling of Christmas morning, the smell of our childhood home or the cold splash of the first swim of summer, my body can recall the experience of spiritual and psychological death that happened when my daughter was born lifeless. I sit with my heart, my mind, my spirit and my body as I prepare for deep mourning in the coming days. I sit, not because I want attention, not because I am not willing to accept her death, not because I want to wallow. I will mourn deeply because I am her mother and she is my child. I mourn deeply because she is worth that. I mourn deeply because just as my body produced life sustaining milk for her with no living child to feed, it also produces unending tears to mourn the entire lifetime we missed together. I did not choose this. I am not wallowing in self-pity. Quite the opposite, in fact. Rather, I am drowning in overwhelming love for another. A love bigger than it appears you can fathom.

I am appalled, sickened and confused that a person claiming to be deeply connected with God would choose to shame me for loving and mourning my child who died. What, exactly, is your understanding of the love of God? Which history of Jesus’ life have you read? Clearly, the Bible wasn’t your choice of reading or you might recall Jesus’ commitment to being with those in suffering, particularly marginalized populations. If we are to truly live as Jesus lived, our hearts must open and extend to those who are hurting the most. We must bear witness, see their sorrow, sit with their souls, and listen to their hearts.

I ask you to please, please, engage in the conversation. Take up Dr. Joanne Cacciatore on her offer to attend her training on Compassionate Bereavement Care. Simply come to the table, willing to learn. And, when you arrive, I fully expect an apology for myself, my husband, my 3 children and all of my broken-hearted friends who walk this unchosen path. Humility is a characteristic of wisdom, not weakness.

Show up. Be humble. Learn something.

Jason said...

I feel that you have a valid point. Some people leave the church because they have become disenfranchised. God is just fine with you reading the bible and living like Christ. The problem is most people have forgotten how to do that.

Pam Bradley said...

Very well written thank you very much Dr. C. As for me a bereaved mom I will have to say definitely not looking for pity or attention. Would so rather have my one and only child here with me. I do speak of my child and dwell on him because I miss him terribly he is my one and only child raised him for 25 years now he is gone my hopes for the future for him and me are gone and all that hurts. I love talking about my child and who doesn't unfortunately mine is dead, so when I do talk about him that might make others uncomfortable and feel that I'm looking for attention and that is not at all the case. I miss my boy a lot!

Kristin Koepke said...

Thank you Dr. C, a capitol C for compassion. I am deeply saddened for my clients, family, and friends that have experienced a loss of loved one quickly and traumatically. I am even more saddened that Mr. Olsteen has not learned or has forgotten what compassion is about. Nor has he learned that we grieve because we love. And to ask any man, woman, child, brother, sister, grandparent, spouse to "get over it, move beyond it, suck it up" is simply saying to forget loving that individual that has passed away. Perhaps I will be praying for him tonight, that he can awaken with love, compassion, and understanding. I close with this message:
“However many holy words you read, however many you speak, what good will they do you if you do not act on upon them?”

Anonymous said...

I googled osteen and decided check out this page. I have listened to a few of his sermons on tv.( the only pastor who doesn't ask for or gave number wanting money) I don't read his books. I had no idea he wrote that. Why won't he apologize? Is it his or his wife's decision. Unfortunately the only way he would understand is if he suffered such a loss. I don't wish that.


I'm sorry for all those who have lost a child.

Josette Tharp said...

This is very upsetting
My only daughter age 19 was killed 18 months ago ...
It's tragic what we as parents are enduring ,but to have a so called minister say we are attention seekers
Is just uncalled for ...
My daughter was killed
How would he act if his child was killed .....

Jacqueline McGrath said...

When my son died as a victim of suicide in June 2014 I was asked by a friend to attend a healing session and service at her church. I was brought up christian, Church of England, attended Sunday school for 12 years but left as I entered my teen years. After that I never really believed in any religion. I did attend the church with my friend. The Reverend was a former Catholic nun for six years. The church is a "Spiritualist" church. They believe that life continues after death.
The Reverend started the homily by saying "I know many of you in this chapel have lost a loved one, many were children. I don't know how you have the strength to get up each day" She was very compassionate, her message was heartfelt, many of the congregation were crying. Even though the Reverend had no children of her own she felt our pain, she understood. We don't have bibles in our church but we do believe in a Creator, God call it whatever. Mr. Osteen has no formal training, he is an entertainer on TV. He makes a lot of money from his ministry.
I wonder which one of his children he would send to God? I wonder........

Becoming...

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The soul still sings in the darkness telling of the beauty she found there; and daring us not to think that because she passed through such tortures of anguish, doubt, dread, and horror, as has been said, she ran any the more danger of being lost in the night. Nay, in the darkness did she, rather, find herself.

--St. John, Dark Night of the Soul


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